By Monday morning Sara had packed up all the things that were William’s that were not also items that they got together. His boyhood trophy collection, which she never wanted him to display, but that he put out anyway, his hunting clothes and boots, books that were technical about architecture, these things were all packed in various boxes ready to go to Goodwill or the post office.
More than once she’d had to stop and cry, or stop and read a letter or book. One night she’d just fallen asleep in the middle of the floor after going through a box of college papers and letters. The memories that each item brought to her mind were both precious now and awful. The jeans with the hole in the seat because he’d been drinking and got them caught on a nail. How she’d laughed at him. Trying to get untangled, but too tipsy to stand up straight. The faded stain from the ketchup that dripped on his shirt when they took that anniversary trip to Mount Pleasant and ate hamburgers on the porch at Poe’s Tavern. She’d spent an hour crying over that one. But in the end, she’d put them away. Closing the boxes because looking at it all was too hard. Except for one pale yellow button down shirt that she had always loved him in. He must have worn it briefly then hung it up because she could close her eyes and bury her face in it and imagine he was there. That she kept. And she’d worn it to bed every night.
The nights were, without a doubt, the hardest times for her. She missed him next to her in bed. When they had married, having him in bed with her every night was marvelous. Sara would snuggle up next to him when she was ready to go to sleep – even if he had gone to bed first. Sometimes this snuggling led to other things, which did not bother Sara. Often during the night, William would escape to the other side of the bed, but Sara would find him in her sleep and drape a leg and an arm over his chest.
He wasn’t there now to find in the night, so her sleep was restless. A couple of times she had simply gotten up and turned on the T.V. to whatever ridiculous reality show would pass the time until she fell asleep on the couch. Then in the morning she would wake up, rush to the bathroom to throw up and begin her day.
On Sunday, after the packing, she had settled into opening the mail. Here two problems greeted her. One was, simply put, money. There wasn’t much.
William had always handled paying the bills because he enjoyed it. They had a joint checking account and her money just went right in with his. They had no secrets, or so she assumed, and she would just make sure with him before she made a big purchase or pulled out over fifty dollars at the ATM.
As far as she knew, William had no life insurance, so their mortgage was now looming over her head. That bill was in the mail that she had opened over the weekend and after looking through the filing cabinet for six hours on Saturday, she finally had a handle on how much money they had in the bank. Without William’s salary coming in, there was only enough money to pay the mortgage through next month. Her salary alone was just enough to cover the water, electricity, food and maybe the cell phone. So she either had to sell the house in six weeks or get further and further behind on the bill.
She had made a mental note to call William’s office on the next day to find out if he had any salary that hadn’t been paid. That may stave off foreclosure for another month if she was really careful. The best thing for her was to find a roommate. How she was going to convince someone to come in and live with a pregnant woman was beyond her. Then there was the widow thing. She didn’t want to live with anyone else right now.
Oh, God, Sara thought, a little prayer coming unbidden to her mind. I sure could use some help right now.
After a shower and a quick blow dry Sara walked into the small dining room. Holding her coffee in her hand, Sara leaned against the doorjamb and studied the boxes stacked all around her, the result of her hard work and tears. The boxes stared right back, taunting her.
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll deal with you.”
The boxes for donation went to the curb after a quick phone call arranging pick-up. The few boxes to go to Oden she moved to the car. The post office was not far away.
Grabbing her keys and her purse from the table by the door, she walked back out to the car, ready to go. Sara saw Miss Jane across the street on her porch. She waved. Miss Jane waved back, but had a puzzled expression on her face. It struck Sara that she must seem to be moving pretty fast to get William’s things moved out. But this was what she had chosen to do. She climbed in the car, started the engine and headed to the post office.
There were only three boxes to take in to mail to Miss Emily. The thought came to Sara that this would seem awfully fast to Emily Carraway. Miss Emily might even be embarrassed to get them in the mail so quickly. But what did that matter to Sara anymore. It doesn’t, she thought. It doesn’t concern me at all.
Boxes taken care of, Sara climbed back in her car and thought of the long day ahead with nothing to do. Panic started to set in at the thought of returning to her house.
“The mall,” Sara said out loud to no one. “The mall is what I need.”
Parking her car in the mall lot outside of Belk, Sara walked into the store and headed straight for her favorite place, the clearance shoe rack. This was what she needed. Shoes. Racks of discounted shoes. Old lady shoes. Party shoes. Bright orange shoes with heels so high they were a danger to society. Boots of all shades. Kitten heels and ballet flats. The soothing nothingness of shoe shopping. The possibility of an amazing deal. To get lost in the hunt. To forget about what waited for her.
After forty-five minutes of trying on every shoe on the clearance rack in her size, she had narrowed her possibilities down to a pair of fabulously comfortable bright pink ballet flats which would go with absolutely nothing in her closet and a ridiculous pair of patent red three-inch heels which she might get to wear once before she became a mom. And moms don’t wear three-inch heels – do they? Sara wondered. In the end, when the shoes were even cheaper than the red-line price, she felt completely obliged to keep both pairs.
Feeling better than she had in days, Sara headed over to the food court for her favorite fried chicken sandwich. First though, a quick stop at Barnes and Noble for something to read while eating alone. Perusing the historical romance section (for the history lessons, of course), Sara felt a tap on her shoulder.
“Sara?” She turned to see a man about her age in a green polo shirt and khaki shorts, looking sympathetic.
“Yes?” Sara replied.
“I’m Dale? From William’s work? We met last year at the company Christmas party.” He put his hand out. Sara took it. Then he added his other hand to the shake. “We are all so in shock about William. I hope you got the flowers we sent to the funeral.”
Panic. There it was. Fight or flight? Better pick flight.
“Thank you. I’m sure his mom…I didn’t really see all the flowers. There were so many.” Sara was trying to get her hand out of his grip. “She sort of handled…I mean…thank you. Tell everyone at the office…thanks.” There, she had her hand back. Clutching her Belk bag to her chest she headed for the doors to the outside, but just as she reached the air, someone grabbed her arm.
Turning Sara said, “Really. Thanks, I just…” Then, Sara realized that it wasn’t Dale who had her, it was a store employee.
“You can’t take that,” he said, pointing at her arms.
“What? These are my shoes.”
“Not the shoes, the book. You didn’t pay for that.” He was still pointing.
And Sara realized that she was still holding the romance novel she’d been looking at when Dale had started talking to her. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to…” But the employee just said, “Whatever,” and took the book back into the store with him, leaving Sara standing on the hot sidewalk wishing to God she could melt into it. And now she had to walk all the way around the mall to get back to her car. There was no way she was going back into that store to face the stares of the people who thought she was a shoplifter. Nor the possibility of running into Dale again.
“William,” she whispered. “You’d know what to say to make me laugh at this. To make me laugh at myself. I need you.”
It was then that she realized everything that connected her to William was on its way to someone else. “Oh no!” And she began to run, uncaring suddenly who saw her or what they thought. Reaching her car, she fumbled for her keys, her hands sweating, dropping them three times in her rush before finally getting the car unlocked.
Frantic now, Sara rushed through traffic, honking her horn at the cars who were too stupid to get out of her path. Down Abercorn, then right onto Stephenson, thinking she could avoid some of the gridlock on the main road. But Waters Avenue was waiting for her. She sat at the light at the Derenne intersection for what seemed like hours, her hands rubbing compulsively on the steering wheel, hitting it occasionally. Surely, they won’t have come yet, she thought. But there was a feeling deep down that it was all gone. She had screwed up. All of his things. Gone. She’d been trying to be like Eve. To just “get it done,” but she wasn’t Eve. She needed to have William back…have his clothes back in the closet. The thought of coming home to that empty house and those empty closets was making her want to scream. What was she thinking?
All the way down Waters she prayed, “Please God. Please. If those boxes are still there, I’ll do anything. Anything. Only please, let them be there.” Past the hospital, past New Tires, then left on to 48th and there! Sara thought she caught a glimpse of brown on the sidewalk. She breathed a sigh.
But it was too much to pray for. As she pulled closer she realized those boxes were only trash. The Goodwill boxes, all of William’s things, were gone. Nothing was left.
Sara parked in front of the house. She didn’t even get out, before she was sobbing. “William! Oh please come back. Please don’t be dead! Please, please, please…I don’t want you to go. I don’t want you to go.” Sara held on to the steering wheel, as she cried.
Eventually, the tears slowed down. But she couldn’t go in the house. She couldn’t bring herself to face the empty quiet, the ghost of a life that was. She leaned her chair back all the way, rolled down her window and curled on her side, falling asleep almost instantly.
Sara was walking through Forsyth Park. There was the playground on her left, the swings moving back and forth. “Where are the kids?” Sara wondered, still walking. The old fort was on her right, the tables out back strangely empty. “That’s weird,” Sara said out loud, her voice sounding far-off, like an echo. The fountain, which was far away a moment ago was now right in front of her and she found that she was holding on to the iron railing though she had no
memory of getting here.
“Sara.” A whisper. A breath.
Where is that voice coming from? Sara thought. There was no one here. No one at all, which was very strange indeed.
Sara opened her eyes to a sunset world and Miss Jane, leaning in the car window, rubbing her arm.
“Sara, how long have you been out here?” Miss Jane asked, a look of concern in her eyes.
Sara sat up, her back protesting the movement after so long in a cramped position. She blinked, trying to get her eyes to cooperate, as they also seemed to be protesting the movement.
“I don’t know. What time is it?” She ran her hands over her hair, trying to smooth it out.
“Eight o’clock. The sun’s about down. Whatever are you doing out here? I was taking a walk and just happened to notice your window was open, then saw you asleep.”
Miss Jane moved back as Sara opened the car door and stepped out, bending her spine in a cat-like stretch. She closed the door and leaned against the car.
“We’re worried about you, dear. The boxes…” Miss Jane trailed off.
“I know, I…I thought it would be better, but…but it wasn’t and I can’t take it back now. I can’t get him back.” It was happening again. The tears. They weren’t going to stop. “I got home from the mall and they were gone. And all I could do was cry. And I couldn’t go back in there, not without him. Not without him.”
“Come here, my sweet girl,” Miss Jane crooned, pulling her into a hug. “Of course, you must cry. Of course you’re sad. Just cry. It’s okay.” The pair of them stood there on the sidewalk, Miss Jane letting Sara cry, rubbing her back, shushing her gently, as only a mother knows how. And Sara, who could not remember her mother, let her, and knew somewhere deep inside that this was what a mother was for, and then her tears were for all those she missed. They were for her husband, and her mother and her sister. For even the mother-in-law who could never be what she secretly wished that she could be. Sara held Miss Jane tightly and almost told her what was bursting in her soul to tell. But the spell was broken when across the street they both heard, “Jane? Jane is that you?”
“Yes, Bill!” Jane spoke to the voice. “I’m over here with Sara.”
The pair of them moved apart, but Jane did not let Sara go completely.
“You will come with me, right now, young lady. It’s supper time, and I will not have you eating alone tonight. Come and let Bill and I make you laugh a bit and feed you. Please, won’t you?”
Sara looked over at her house, dark and silent and thought she’d be a fool to say no.
“Yes. Okay.” Nodding, trying not to cry again. “But I may cry,” she added, apologetic.
“I may cry with you.” Miss Jane reached up and smoothed Sara’s hair, a sweet gesture Sara was surprised by. Jane linked her arm with Sara’s and they crossed the street to the waiting Bill and the warmly lit up home.